New blows to civil liberties
by Daphne Liddle The Queen's speech delivered on November 17 announced 28 Bills and few surprises but did contain a lot of tightening of the screws of the bourgeois state to further limit British people's dwindling civil liberties. Perhaps the most worrying of these is a Bill to transfer the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) — originally designated a temporary emergency measure in 1975 but renewed regularly ever since — into permanent law. This is described as a tidying up measure but will actually considerably widen the scope of the PTA to encompass political, environmental and religious activists. It comes at a time when the Irish peace process means there has been virtually no form of violent political activity in Britain for several years and little prospect of any. The logic behind the setting up of the PTA in the first place should now demand its complete repeal. But it always was really a measure of class oppression and its widening now suggests an intensifying of the class war. The definition of terrorism is to be widened to: "The use of serious violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence to intimidate or coerce the government, the public or any section of it for political, religious or ideological grounds." The new Bill will also outlaw "incitement" by foreign dissidents based in Britain which could affect exile communities such as the Kurds. It will make it an offence to be "connected with" terrorism, which could be open to almost any interpretation. There will be a Bill for privacy in communications to cover electronic communications and a Freedom of Information Bill. However, these are both contradicted by the wider electronic surveillance powers to be given to police and intelligence services in the PTA and so are unlikely to be anything other than cosmetic. A new Criminal Justice Bill will limit the right to trial by jury, giving magistrates the decision as to whether a case should be referred to a higher court. It will also "shake up" the probation service, and allow for the compulsory drugs testing of all arrested suspects. Young offenders who do not comply with court orders will face losing their benefits. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has already pointed out that this could leave youngsters with no option but to steal or beg in order to survive and actually force them into re-offending. There will be a Bill to reform the Royal Ulster Constabulary but whether it fully complies with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is yet to be seen. The proposed Transport Bill is probably going to be the most controversial, allowing local authorities powers to charge private cars for entering cities and for parking at work. There will also be charges for using some trunk roads. The Government has pledged that money raised will go to improving public transport but as long as that transport is privatised, the government — either national or local — will have few powers to ensure improvements are properly implemented.
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